Scenes from an Urban Garden Dinner Party: Part II

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Last week, I showed you the appetizers that I helped put together for a dinner benefiting the Portland Fruit Tree Project. My husband, the chef for the event, didn’t just stop at creative snacks. He prepared a five-course dinner as well, one that was so delicious we converted a 10-year vegetarian into a carnivore for the evening. I’d call that a massive success!

Here’s what we served after the passed appetizers were done.

Course 1: Salad of roasted beets, plums, goat cheese, mung bean sprouts and crispy quinoa.

Course 1: Beets, plums, goat cheese, mung bean sprouts and crispy quinoa

The beets were roasted, the plums firm but juicy, the cheesy was tangy and the fried quinoa added a happy crunchy texture.

Course 2: Homemade tomato leaf strozzapreti with Connie’s tomatoes and fresh basil in a  Parmesan brodo.

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Things That Make Me Happy: Spring is Coming!

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Spring Crocus

The first of many….

Last fall I planted 30 spring crocus bulbs and I’ve been impatiently waiting for them to bloom. Finally Friday afternoon I noticed I had one perfect bloom in my backyard. After years of thinking that I was born with a black thumb, bulbs are becoming my redemption. For a little effort, you get a whole lot of reward!

Rhizome Roulette: Are sunchokes worth the gamble?

How can something so potentially evil look so innocent?

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled up my sunchoke plant and was greeted with a lovely harvest of the knobby root vegetables. Even though I had been looking forward to that moment all summer, suddenly I felt bewildered. What should I do with them? I haven’t cooked sunchokes in years. So I turned to Google.

Which dropped me down a rabbit hole I had not at all expected — an online journey featuring flatulence and intestinal distress. What I discovered was something I had thankfully been totally unaware of all my sunchoke-eating life. Apparently about 50 percent of people have painful digestive issues fueled by sunchokes — to the point that some of the comments on the recipes I was researching made me cringe. Commenters on some sites cried out that every recipe should come with a written warning that these unassuming tubers could wreck severe havoc on unsuspecting eaters. I was floored.

Some people were so intense that even though I was 99 percent confident in my ability to enjoy sunchokes with no ill effects, I actually became a bit anxious. What if all the times I had eaten them were flukes? What if this time I was part of the wrong half of the population? How would I survive an 8-hour day in a small office with that type of reaction? Finally I set my nerves aside, picked up my knife and got cooking.

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Tales from the Garden: Fresh Tomato Sauce

Considering that over the course of the summer I’ve mentioned my inaptitude in gardening (well, at least gardening for edible things, I can grow some pretty flowers!), I think you can guess that these tomatoes did not come my garden. This, again, is why it’s good to have friends who seem to have a natural green thumb.

So thanks to my friend DB, I spent last weekend surrounded by the final remains of Portland’s Indian summer as we cooked up a batch of fresh tomato sauce.

Look at these beauties!

Once we had picked all the ripe fruit, we debated for a while about whether to take the skins off. We had enough tomatoes that the task did seem daunting. Finally I managed to convince DB it would be worth it in the end — swearing (with little confidence) that it wouldn’t take forever.

Surprisingly I was right — I love it when that happens! A quick “X” at the bottom of each tomato, plus a dunking in boiling water, and the skins slid right off. Within 45 minutes or so, we had every last one peeled and ready to go. We decided not to seed them because they were almost all flesh, perfect for stewing.

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Dinner in the Garden of Eden: Portland’s Tabor Tilth

A few days ago, I posted about a dinner that I helped my husband prepare as part of the Portland Fruit Tree Project’s Orchard Series. It was a pretty amazing experience — as you can imagine when you’re cooking for 40 people in an urban garden and this is the kitchen.

The best place to cook is outside!

And the spread my husband put together was pretty spectacular. It started with some passed appetizers…

Watermelon and wasabi with Oregon elderflowers

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Tales from the Garden: The Stowaway

A very cheerful marigold

My grandmother is a dedicated gardener. Even though she is in her 90s, she still takes great care of her rose garden and also grows flowers from seed every spring in her greenhouse.

Since I have finally proved that I can keep plants alive, I have been allowed to take home some of her starters. This spring she gave me tiny marigolds that have since grown to a surprising degree. Even though she said they were “tall” ones, I had no idea they got that big — they are past waist-high right now.

But while I was carefully watching their progress, I noticed there was one plant that looked different from all the rest. I was sure it wasn’t a weed as I could remember my grandmother saying she had planted a variety of seeds, but I wasn’t sure what exactly it was.

Until it bloomed:

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